Former USC Head Football Coach Larry Smith Dies

Jan. 28, 2008

Former USC head football coach Larry Smith, who guided the Trojans to a bowl game in 5 of his 6 years at Troy (including Rose Bowls his first 3 years), died today (Jan. 28) in Tucson, Ariz., at age 68. He had been battling leukemia and lymphoma.

Known for his ability to rebuild struggling programs, Smith posted a 143-126-7 overall record in 24 years as a head coach at 4 schools (Tulane, Arizona, USC and Missouri).

Smith compiled a 44-25-3 mark at USC from 1987 to 1992, including 33-12-2 in Pac-10 games. He won 3 Pac-10 titles (1987-88-89), was runnerup in 1990 and finished third in 1992. He was the Pac-10 Coach of the Year twice (1987-88). He became only the second coach in college history to have his first 3 teams at a school go to the Rose Bowl (Stanford's Claude 'Tiny' Thornhill also did so in 1933-35), as well as only the second coach in USC history at the time (joining John Robinson) to get to the Rose Bowl in his debut season and to play in 5 bowls in his first 6 seasons.

His 1988 team, which started off 10-0 and was ranked as high as second in the AP poll, finished with a 10-2 mark, USC's most wins since 1979. Those Trojans went 8-0 in the Pac-10, the first time any Pac-10 team had won that many conference games and the first time since 1976 that a Pac-10 squad went unbeaten and untied through league play. USC's Rose Bowl-clinching win over UCLA that year was its first-ever against the Bruins in Pasadena.

In 1989, his Trojans went 9-2-1 and set a school-record for consecutive Pac-10 victories (19). Besides the 3 Rose Bowls, USC also played in the 1990 John Hancock Bowl and the 1992 Freedom Bowl under Smith.

Smith produced 13 All-American first teamers at USC, including Heisman Trophy-runnerup quarterback Rodney Peete, Thorpe Award-winning safety Mark Carrier, linebacker Junior Seau, offensive tackle Tony Boselli, wide receiver Curtis Conway and defensive tackle Tim Ryan. Some 33 of his USC players were NFL draft picks, including 6 first rounders.

'On behalf of the entire Trojan Family, I'm saddened to hear of the passing of Larry Smith,' said USC athletic director Mike Garrett, who was an associate athletic director during Smith's final 2 seasons at Troy. 'He was a good man and a good football coach. When he came to USC, he brought a tough-minded approach and solid fundamentals and he produced some very successful teams here. Getting his first three teams into the Rose Bowl is unprecedented in our history. We'll remember Larry dearly and will long appreciate his contributions to Trojan football. Our sincere thoughts go out to Cheryl and the family.'

Said Johnnie Morton, former USC All-American and NFL wide receiver who played for Smith: 'Coach Smith was a very influential person in my life. He helped me develop toughness, character and discipline. He'll be remembered as an all-time great football coach who loved his players and genuinely cared about them as individuals as well as football players.'

Said John Jackson, former USC and NFL wide receiver who became Troy's career pass catching leader while playing for Smith: 'When he got hired at USC, Larry Smith was exactly what we needed. He was perfect for USC at that time in our history. He knew how to organize talent and get guys to play together as a team. He had a plan. Everything was built around discipline and playing as a team, and he got immediate results.'

Smith was the first Trojan head football coach without a prior USC background since Howard Jones in 1925. He came to USC from Arizona, which he built into national prominence during his 7 years (1980-86) there. He was 48-23-3 at Arizona, including 31-13-2 in his last 4 seasons. His 1986 Wildcat team went 9-3 and posted the school's first bowl win (Aloha Bowl). He directed the Wildcats to winning seasons in 6 consecutive years (1981-86) for the first time since 1923, to 5 straight victories over archrival Arizona State for the first time since 1948 (twice knocking the Sun Devils out of the Rose Bowl) and to 4 consecutive seasons of 7 wins or more for the first time ever. In 1981, his Arizona team upset No. 1 USC in the Coliseum.

Smith began his coaching career at Lima (Ohio) Shawnee High, serving as an assistant for 2 seasons (1962-63) and then head coach the next 3 years (1964-66). He then entered the college coaching ranks at Miami of Ohio for 2 years (1967-68), as the defensive end coach under head coach Bo Schembechler. He next moved with Schembechler to Michigan, coaching the offensive line there for 4 seasons (1969-72). When Jim Young (alongside whom Smith had coached at his previous stops) was hired as head coach at Arizona, Smith went with him and was the assistant head coach/defensive coordinator there for 3 years (1973-75).

Tulane hired Smith in 1976 as its head coach and he rebuilt that program to a 9-3 record in 1979, including a Liberty Bowl berth. In 4 years (1976-79) there, he was 18-27.

After USC, Smith was Missouri's head coach for 7 seasons (1994-2000), posting a 33-46-1 record. In 1998, the Tigers went 8-4 and won the Bowl, Missouri's first bowl victory since 1981. His 1997 squad played in the Holiday Bowl, ending the school's 13-year bowl drought.

Smith returned to Tucson after his coaching career and worked as a television commentator for Arizona football games. He also conducted football camps.

Smith was a 3-sport star at Van Wert (Ohio) High. He earned an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy upon graduation in 1957, but a year later felt coaching was his main interest and he transferred to Bowling Green. He was a 3-year (1959-61) letterman 2-way end. Bowling Green captured the small college championship his sophomore season, he won all-league honors as a junior and was team captain as a senior.

Funeral service information is pending.

He is survived by his wife, Cheryl, his daughter, Alicia, and his son, Corby (a 1992 letterman quarterback at USC), plus several grandchildren.